World of Warcraft is indisputably the 800 pound Gorilla of the MMORPG ecosystem. It has a worldwide subscriber base of over 8 million players. It has just released an expansion pack that sold 2.4 million copies in the first 24 hours of release. It’s going strong and taking all comers.
Can anyone tell me then why Sigil Games and Sony Online Entertainment released Vanguard: Saga of Heroes in its current state, and against the recommendations of its beta test community?
In spite of some of the things that I’ve read about Vanguard, I decided to give the game the benefit of the doubt. I went to Sony’s web site and purchased the digital download. I then proceeded to download about seven gigabytes of install files. Once the files were downloaded I started the install. Unfortunately the downloads didn’t go well and the install failed. I re-downloaded the two corrupted files, two gigabytes each, and then managed a successful install. Yay!
Upon starting the game, familiar Sony Launcher dialog appeared and checked all the files before downloading the first update. Incidentally, the launcher always checks the files on startup even if nothing as changed. It’s a bit of a pain since it delays getting into the game. To be fair Everquest 2 does this as well.
When the game finally launches the next problem occurs. The screen blanks and the monitor gives me an Invalid Input message. This means that the video card is talking to the monitor such that the monitor can’t understand the signal. Okay. Alt-Tab doesn’t work. Restart the computer. The next attempt is better. The monitor still flashes up the message, but it quickly disappears and the game boots up normally.
Vanguard has a decent selection of races and classes. All up there are twenty races and eighteen classes. I created a Vulmane Dread Knight called Stropp. The character creation provides a whole lot of sliders to tweak your characters appearance. I think this is where it scores a point over World of Warcraft. I like lots of choice.
Getting into the game after creating my character was pretty easy. There was a little bit of lag, but it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t see many other players either, but being in an Oceanic timezone that’s not unusual. I did the first few quests without any problems, no complaints there.
Where I do have complaints is the user interface graphics. Every time I opened a user interface panel, it opened with completely corrupted textures. Random coloured snow isn’t something you want to see in a user interface. Moving my mouse over the panel caused it to resize and then display properly. This effect reminded me of some problems I had in Neverwinter Nights 2 before I updated my graphics drivers, which by the way are currently up to date.
The graphics didn’t really impress me either. I couldn’t play the game over the balanced setting, and on this setting I thought the graphics and textures were somewhat dull. My machine is just over a year old, custom built with a 3.4 processor, 1GB ram, and a 6600 GT video card. Not exactly cutting edge stuff, but it plays EQ2 like a dream, and EQ2 looks much better than Vanguard.
One part of the game that I did think was very well done was the Diplomacy mini-game. Sigil’s idea to use a card battle game to allow players to engage in non-combat gameplay is very innovative in the MMO gamespace. It’s always irked me that World of Warcraft, amongst other MMOs, implements non-combat gameplay in the most basic crude terms. Case in point, WoW’s fishing. That should have been implemented as a mini-game. Vanguard scores high here.
I haven’t really done more than scratch the surface of Vanguard yet. I’ve only spent a few hours, and have done a few quests. I want to spend some more time in the game and experiment with the crafting. I’d like to do a bit more adventuring.
Now back to my question. Why did Vanguard get released so early?
There are a substantial number of reasonably high profile games coming out in the next few months. These games, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings, Stargate, Tabula Rasa, are all looking at World of Warcraft. They are all aiming to steal a few bananas from that big monkey. The competition is heating up.
It’s really important to impress your customers early. First impressions do count, and bad press can hurt. If your players are faced with bugs, they are going to complain. If there are other choices, they’ll take those.
So why release a game that is simply not ready?